“Oxytocin Hormone Inhalation” Improves Social Learning In People with Aspergers

A recent study published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Science” is the first to demonstrate the effects of oxytocin, a hormone that allegedly promotes mother-infant bonding, socialization, trust and cooperation. Researchers stated that Aspies showed dramatic improvement in their social learning ability subsequent to inhalation of this “socialization-eliciting” hormone.

The results of this study influenced several Aspergers specialists to speculate that when usually depleted levels of oxytocin among Aspies are supplemented, it may benefit their social interactive skills.

The study was related to the Aspie’s tendency to avoid eye contact with others. In this study, 13 participants with Aspergers - and a control group - were quizzed about photos of human faces. Such images normally prompt Aspergers subjects to avert their gaze, especially avoiding looking at the eyes. For 90 minutes after inhaling oxytocin, those subjects were more willing to study the photos, including the eyes. They were also better able to tell whether they were being ignored in a computerized ball-tossing game. Aspies would usually not pick up on such differential treatment.

Researchers also stated that the oxytocin's effect in the second test was especially important because it prompted subjects to interact with others and learn from others' feedback. Two related studies in Aspergers adults found that oxytocin decreased repetitive behaviors and improved interpretation of emotions.

Oxytocin is a peptide of nine amino acids, which evokes feelings of contentment, reductions in anxiety, and feelings of calmness and security. Many studies have already shown a correlation of oxytocin with human bonding, increases in trust, and decreases in fear. One study confirmed that there was a positive correlation between oxytocin plasma levels and an anxiety scale measuring adult romantic attachment. This suggests that oxytocin may be important for the inhibition of brain regions that are associated with behavioral control, fear, and anxiety.

Conclusions—

Oxytocin may play a role in Aspergers and may be an effective treatment for Asperger's repetitive and affiliative behaviors. Intranasal administration of oxytocin may increase emotion recognition in children as young as 12 who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.

While this research suggests some promise, further clinical trials of oxytocin are required to demonstrate potential benefit and side effects in the treatment of Aspergers. As such, researchers do not recommend use of oxytocin as a treatment outside of clinical trials.

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